Leaving an abusive relationship isn’t an easy decision. These tips on how to cope with relationship abuse will help you survive while you figure out what you need to do. I was inspired to write this article by a reader who is living with an angry husband; these tips may help you see your own relationship and life differently.
“I feel so sad and lonely in my relationship,” says Martha on 7 Ways to Survive Life With an Angry Man – When You Can’t Leave. “I have been with my husband 7 years and have gone through a lot of mental and verbal abuse from him. I keep forgiving him and he says he wants to change but he continues with his mean words. It’s hard to leave him because we have two little girls and I don’t want them having a split home, but I think the fighting might be worse than a divorced home. I also worry about them because he also uses negative words with them and is rough and hurts them. I am torn, I love him but I am very miserable. I want to file for divorce but I don’t have the money.”
I understand how difficult it is to leave even the most abusive relationships, especially when you don’t have money or support. Many husbands keep apologizing and saying they’ll change, but they never do. This is typical of men who abuse their wives – and so are your feelings of sadness and loneliness. It’s also typical of them to separate their wives from loved ones, so the women feel alone and isolated. Not having anyone to talk to will keep you trapped and unable to determine how to cope with the abuse in your relationship. My prayer is that these suggestions will help you see you’re not alone, and help you decide what you need to do.
In this article, I’ll describe what relationship abuse is and suggest four ways to cope with abusive relationships when you can’t leave. I encourage you to write about your situation. Share your story in the comments section below, or in your own private journal. Writing is a great form of therapy, and it can help you cope with relationship abuse in a healthy ways.
What is relationship abuse?
Abusive relationships can be marked by verbal, emotional, physical, and mental mistreatment. The term “relationship abuse” also includes neglect and the silent treatment. There are four main types of abuse: neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse.
Neglect is the most common type of abuse. Some research claims children are more likely to be neglected if they’re poor because parents are preoccupied with survival – but wealthy families definitely can and do neglect their kids. Neglect occurs when parents or guardians don’t provide food, shelter, safety, supervision, clothes, education, attention, or medical treatment – often it’s about what they don’t do.
Physical abuse is sometimes the easiest to recognize because the clues can be obvious when someone hits, slaps, beats, burns, kicks, or stabs you. However, there may not be evidence when someone grabs your arm, shakes you, or pushes you around – but that’s definitely abuse.
Sexual abuse is any form of touching, intercourse, or exploitation of your body. This includes taking pictures you, asking you to touch someone else’s private parts, and making offensive references to your body. Being forced to touch or have sex with your boyfriend against your will is abuse.
Emotional abuse is when someone verbally threatens or humiliates you. Sometimes called verbal abuse, emotional abuse can be difficult to recognize. It includes calling you names, putting you down, insulting you, or breaking your things. Control is a huge part of emotional abuse and involves chronic anger, jealousy, accusations, and distrust.
11 warning signs of emotional abuse:
- Constant phone calls, text-messages, e-mails, IMs, etc. to check up on you
- Extreme jealousy when you talk to or spend time with other people
- Name-calling or putting you down, either when you’re alone or with other people.
- Behavior that you have to apologize or make excuses for.
- Statements like, “I can’t live without you. If you leave me, I’ll kill myself.”
- You feel depressed, anxious, and unhappy in your relationship.
- You’re scared to upset or make your partner angry.
- You’ve seen your partner hurt or talk down to other people.
- You’re down on yourself, or even hate yourself, especially when you’re together.
- You lie about the bruises or cuts you have.
- You don’t spend as much time with your friends, and you feel isolated.
If you’re unsure about emotionally abusive men, read Surprising Examples of Verbal Abuse in Relationships.
You deserve to be treated with love and respect. You are a valuable, lovable, smart, worthwhile woman who didn’t do anything to deserve to suffer abuse in a relationship.
Can a man be a victim of relationship abuse?
My articles are written for women, which means I almost always refer to men as the perpetrators of relationship abuse.
However, it’s important to know that women are capably of emotionally and physically abusing their husbands, too. Robert J. Reid, MD, an associate investigator at the Group Health Center for Health Studies, reports that many men experience domestic violence.
What research shows about abuse against men by women
Reid and his colleagues conducted phone interviews with over 400 randomly sampled men. They found that 5% of men experienced domestic violence in the past year, 10% experienced it in the past five years, and 29% experienced it over their lifetimes. These researchers defined domestic violence or relationship abuse as nonphysical abuse (emotional abuse such as threats, chronic disparaging remarks, or controlling behavior) and physical abuse, such as slapping, hitting, kicking, or forced sex.
The effects of relationship abuse against men
Men who experience abuse in their relationships can experience serious, long-term effects on their mental health. Emotional abuse can take a serious toll on a man’s psyche, resulting in depression or low self-esteem. Male domestic abuse doesn’t go away if it’s ignored. Sometimes abused husbands stay in the marriage because they think it won’t happen again – similar to abused wives.
“We know that many women may have trouble leaving abusive relationships, especially if they’re caring for young children and not working outside the home,” said Dr. Reid. “We were surprised to find that most men in abusive relationships also stay, through multiple episodes, for years.”
Men 55 years old or older are less likely than younger men to report husband abuse. Older men are less likely to talk about domestic violence, possibly because of the stigma surrounding it. Another reason that relationship abuse is underreported by men may be that doctors don’t bring up the subject with their patients.
“We doctors hardly ever ask our male patients about being abused–and they seldom tell us,” said Dr. Reid. “Many abused men feel ashamed because of societal expectations for men to be tough and in control.”
Getting help and learning how to cope with all types of abuse always involves reaching out to someone: friends, family, neighbors, counselors, the police. If you’re struggling to talk about the abusive relationship you’re in, read How to Tell Someone You Were Sexually Abused as a Child.
Source: Group Health Cooperative Center for Health Studies (2008, May 20). Men Experience Domestic Violence, With Health Impact. ScienceDaily.
3 Ways to Cope With Relationship Abuse
I know it’s not easy to leave an abusive marriage or relationship, even when it seems logical. It can take years to accept that your husband or boyfriend isn’t healthy, and can’t treat you the way you deserve to be treated.
You’re not ready to leave yet…but you can learn how to protect yourself.
1. Accept that the cycle of abuse will keep repeating
Not only will your husband keep mistreating you, he’ll also keep promising to change. He’ll continue to abuse your children, pets, and other family members. You’ll get pushed further and further down; your relationships, self-esteem, health, mood, and work will suffer.
Your children will learn from your marriage. They will learn to accept abuse in marriage as normal, and will gravitate towards abuse when they embark on their own relationships. I understand that you don’t want your kids to grow up in a divorced home isn’t ideal…but I hope you’re able to see that living with an abusive father is worse.
Many women stay in abusive relationships for years before they’re ready to leave. You are normal if you find yourself unable to walk away! Read The Cycle of Relationship Abuse to learn more about why women don’t “just leave” men who are abusers.
2. Write and talk about your experience with relationship abuse
A young woman recently told me that she was violently assaulted five years ago. She couldn’t tell anyone about it because she felt ashamed, embarrassed, guilty, and confused. It’s really hard to talk about relationship abuse or violence, for a variety of reasons. That’s why I encourage women to write about their experience.
Questions to write about:
- When did the abuse first start in your relationship?
- How did your husband’s actions make you feel?
- Who knows about the abuse?
- Were you surprised by your husband’s actions towards you?
- Who can you talk to about the relationship abuse you’re experiencing?
- How do you feel about writing or talking about it?
I invite you to share your story in the comments section below. I can’t give advice, but you may find it helpful to work through your thoughts and feelings in writing. You might also write in your own private journal – and keep it in a very safe and secure spot! Hide it well.
Consider talking to a family member, friend, coworker, or neighbor about what you’re experiencing. You might also think about calling the Domestic Violence helpline at 1-800-799-7233.
3. Know that you are lovable – and you didn’t do anything wrong
What is your husband or boyfriend telling you about yourself? Whatever he says, tell it to someone you trust. Write it in the comments section below. When you hear yourself express his words out loud or when you see his words in writing, you will see that he is lying. He is wrong when he says you’re stupid, dumb, ugly, fat, and not worth loving. When you tell people what he says to you, you’ll see that he is wrong.
You have more power in your life than you think. You can choose to stop living in fear, misery, pain, anger, regret, and sadness. Maybe you can’t make this choice today, or this week, or even this month…but you may feel ready to choose to leave in the future. Hold on to the fact that you are lovable, precious, valuable, and worthy of being loved and respected.
Take it one step – one hour – at a time. Don’t project too far into the future; now is not the time to worry about getting money to file for divorce or how you’ll support yourself if you leave. Your first step is to call the domestic violence hotline, and talk. That’s it. That’s all you have to do right now.
May you find courage and strength, wisdom and support. May you be blessed with peace beyond all understanding, hope for the future, and energy to keep putting one foot in front of the other. May you find the right resources and people to guide and help you, and may you run into strong, helpful, encouraging, healthy people who give you support, guidance, and love.
To learn more, read 5 Stages of Leaving an Abusive Relationship.
Help Coping With Relationship Abuse
In Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, Lundy Bancroft gives readers the chance to see inside the minds of angry and controlling men who are the perpetrators of violence.
In Why Does He Do That? you will learn about:
- The early warning signs of abuse
- The nature of abusive thinking
- Myths about abusers
- Ten abusive personality types
- The role of drugs and alcohol
- What you can fix, and what you can’t
- And how to get out of an abusive relationship safely
Lundy Bancroft is a counselor who specializes in working with abusive men. He uses his knowledge about how abusers think to help women recognize when they are being controlled or devalued in a relationship, and to find ways to get free of abuse.
In It’s My Life Now: Starting Over After an Abusive Relationship or Domestic Violence, Meg Kennedy Dugan and Roger R. Hock explain that people who have never experienced an abusive or violent relationship often believe that when you leave, your problems are solved. Your life is good, you are safe, and recovery will be swift.
However, survivors of relationship abuse know that leaving is not the end of the nightmare…it’s the beginning of an often difficult and challenging journey toward healing and happiness. This book offers practical guidance, emotional reassurance, and psychological awareness that survivors of relationship abuse and domestic violence need to heal and reclaim life after leaving an abuser.
Maybe you’re not ready to leave yet, and that’s okay. Keep reminding yourself that you were created for love, peace, and joy. You were created to be cherished and respected – and you deserve to live free from abuse.
Is your relationship in trouble? Get 7 Steps to Fixing Your Marriage from relationship coach Mort Fertel. It's free and helpful, no strings attached.
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